Congress Builds Bridges to Pass $1T Bipartisan Infrastructure Package

Earlier this year, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the United States a “C- grade” on the nation’s infrastructure. I think I would agree with them on that, as I am writing this on my laptop in the waiting room of a service center after blowing out two tires on a pothole deep enough to swim in.

While a C- is an upgrade from the D+ ASCE issued in 2017, it continues to illustrate that our country has underinvested in the infrastructure we rely on to travel and move our farm goods to market. The underinvestment isn’t limited to just roads and bridges but includes our ports, canals, railways, and increasingly strained power grid. Imagine what would happen to your farm’s safety and productivity if you deferred maintenance, failed to mend fences, ignored damaged equipment, and generally underinvested in the things that make you successful; unfortunately that is the current state of U.S. infrastructure and why Farm Bureau has been calling for a significant investment in our nation’s infrastructure for years.

At long last, Congress has taken a step forward and passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Package which will dedicate $1.2T over the next decade to infrastructure. Before we outline how that money will be spent and what it means here in Virginia, it is important to note that this bipartisan infrastructure legislation is different than the partisan spending plan, called the “Build Back Better Act,” currently being debated in Congress.

At its core, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Package is a traditional infrastructure bill, but it also contains significant investments to benefit U.S. farmers, and rural communities.

Every day, Americans make 178M vehicle trips over structurally deficient bridges. In fact, over 40% of the bridges in the United States are over 50 years old. Anyone who hauls livestock or timber has noticed new weight restrictions popping up on Virginia bridges to try and address the issue of infrastructure in a state of disrepair. The infrastructure bill contains $110B for roads and bridges, including $530M specifically for Virginia.

Virginia is blessed with a deep-water port that moves goods in and out of the Commonwealth efficiently. However, much of our country’s inland waterways rely on 50+ year old locks, dams, and general infrastructure, which creates a supply chain bottleneck between farms and ports. The bipartisan infrastructure bill invests $17.3 billion to shore up our ports and inland waterways.

Broadband is infrastructure, and unfortunately, 1 in 4 U.S. farms have no access to high-speed internet. This tool is essential to modern agriculture and gives families access to online health care, education, and allows farmers to use precision ag technologies to reduce inputs, protect water quality, and improve soil health. The infrastructure bill invests $65 billion in broadband expansion so rural Americans aren’t left behind without affordable broadband service. A minimum of $100M of this amount is specifically being allocated to Virginia.

Beyond “shovel ready” infrastructure, the bill will help to address transportation-related supply chain issues that impact the rural and farm economy. Notably, to help alleviate the driver shortage and strengthen our supply chains, the bill includes provisions to help train and recruit truck drivers, and an exemption for livestock and insect (managed pollinators) haulers from Hours of Service regulations within a 150 air-mile radius from their final destination. This funding is targeted to focus on our nation’s infrastructure challenges and help keep Virginia farmers competitive internationally, and we look forward to seeing the implementation of the bill.

We are grateful to all our members who continue to make their voices heard on why infrastructure is critical to the agriculture industry and rural Virginia. Your efforts keep our lawmakers accountable to work together and find solutions that help this industry succeed.

Ben Rowe, National Affairs Coordinator

Look both ways at the Crossing!

Last year I heard some farmers talking about moving farm equipment on the roadways and the many potential hazards that could happen. One mentioned was railroads and the respect we all need to have for the “iron horse”. It’s a force that you need to watch out for and realize that you can’t make assumptions around railroad crossings and always look and don’t take chances. I remembered a 2019 article I was quoted in about railroad safety. As this is a busy time of year for farming, I thought it was worth another read. I hope you agree.

Here’s the article from 2019.

Railroad crossings can pose a danger on farms

RICHMOND—Farming can be a dangerous job, but there’s one hazard farmers may not have on their radar: railroad crossings.

Many farmers live near rural railroad crossings or have railroad tracks on their property, which can pose a risk for train collisions. According to Operation Lifesaver, Inc., a national rail safety education organization, approximately 15% of all rail collisions each year occur on private crossings such as those on farmland.

“Anytime you’re crossing a railroad, there’s always a chance of something happening,” said Andrew Smith, associate director of governmental relations for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “Farmers usually have to go slower to make sure their equipment isn’t dragging or likely to get caught on rail lines, or if they’re going up an incline or over bumps. The safety concerns are there.”

In May an Augusta County farmer using a railroad bridge to cross a stream while repairing fences was fatally struck by a train.

Risk can increase with rural, private railroad crossings because some areas lack the gates or lights that signal an oncoming train. In addition, farm machinery is loud and farmers can’t count on hearing a train in time. Having visual contact with rail lines and looking both ways before crossing is critical. The American Farm Bureau Federation and Operation Lifesaver recently teamed up to remind farmers about the dangers associated with rail lines. Operation Lifesaver published the following safety tips:

  • Slow down as you approach a railroad crossing.
  • Stop no closer than 15 feet from the crossing.
  • Look and listen for a train. Open cab windows, turn off radios and fans and remove headphones. Rock back and forth in your seat to see around obstacles.
  • Look both ways again before crossing.
  • Once you start across, do not hesitate. Do not change gears.

“We can’t take a crossing for granted, and we can’t compete with a train,” Smith said.

Our friends at Operation Lifesaver, Inc. – Railroad Safety Education has some great materials such as this one on Farm Equipment around railroad crossings. Brochure

For more information visit

Andrew W. Smith, Associate Director

Beware of traffic behind you

Make sure you have your SMV sign on your equipment when on the road

Like many of you that live in rural areas I get behind Slow Moving Vehicles often, especially this time of year. Tractors and other farm machinery are busy getting to and from the fields to plant or harvest. We all get in a hurry, but let’s be safe and make sure we all get to our destination safe.

When I returned to the farm decades ago, I heard a story of a local farmer having a school bus behind him as he was moving a piece of tillage equipment down the road. He slowed down and waved the bus by, unfortunately the school bus hung the piece of farm equipment. I was “preached” a very good lesson to remember at the time. Always be courteous when on the road with farm equipment. Always get over when you can and keep tabs of the traffic behind you.  When you have folks behind you, get as far off the road as you can to allow them to pass. If they pass it’s their decision, don’t take on the responsibility of waving them by, there is a question of liability.

In the situation described above the Code of Virginia § 46.2-842. Driver to give way to overtaking vehicle. states, “… Any over-width, or slow-moving vehicle as defined by § 46.2-1081 (read Slow Moving Vehicles) shall be removed from the roadway at the nearest suitable location when necessary to allow traffic to pass.”

A few years ago, during the General Assembly I was approached about whether or not we wanted traffic to be able to pass farm machinery on a double line. At first it sounds like a good idea until you think about who is in the better position to decide when it is safe to pass. If the piece of machinery was the size of a passenger vehicle it might be possible for the driver wishing to pass to make the call and pass when they feel it is safe. But most of our farm equipment is much larger than a car these days, those behind a combine or load of hay cannot see around it to make that call. Considering the size of farm equipment today, the operator of the farm machinery is in the “driver’s seat” to better decide when it is safe to pull off the road to allow traffic to pass. Just to be clear, it is still against the law to pass a Slow Moving Vehicle on a double line.

This might be a good time to remind everyone to have that orange triangle Slow Moving Vehicle sign on the back of the equipment. To view the complete law on that in Virginia you can look at Virginia Code § 46.2-1081. Slow-moving vehicle emblems.It may be a small thing, but it has a big impact and can save lives, including yours. Don’t forget those flashing lights too!

Bottomline, be careful out there when you are driving farm machinery on the roadways. We are all sharing the road, farmers are driving very expensive, very large equipment in most cases, we are also very vulnerable. Remember to let folks pass when you are able to get over far enough to allow traffic to pass. Get over and let them decide if they wish to take the opportunity.

Dana Fisher, Chair of Virginia Farm Bureau Safety Committee has placed a lot of resources on farm safety on our website. You can check those out at Remember you can also check out other useful resources on our Virginia Farm Bureau Resources page at If there is something you still have questions about, reach out to me at the Virginia Farm Bureau headquarters or via your County Farm Bureau.

Andrew W. Smith, Associate Director

Are you equipped? Prepare your farm vehicles for the highway

If you are like me when you drive down the road alone you have a lot of thinking time, often making observations you might not make when you have someone to chat with. I laugh how our observations are relative to what we are doing in life. When I was in college living in a fraternity house, as I drove by a large old house, I would think what a great “House” that would make and how many brothers could live there. Now, working in governmental relations for Virginia Farm Bureau I notice vehicles and the potential violations or hazards present. For example, I notice when a driver is talking on their cell phone and not using a hands-free device, or for commercial trucks what the heftier fine that would be.

I am not the only one that thinks about it – just the other day I got a text asking me to settle a family argument. Apparently, they were discussing the color lights a farm vehicle may display on Virginia roadways. As someone that grew up on a farm and have had hundreds if not thousands of those “discussions” I could just visualize them having this intense conversation. That question gave me the idea to remind farmers of what equipment is required on the various vehicles and equipment they drive across the highways in the Commonwealth.

Producers spend a lot of time behind the wheel of a truck in planting and harvest season so its paramount that each make sure they have the proper safety equipment such as lights, horns, tire tread etc.

As you may know, I have conducted a lot of informational sessions on farm vehicle laws. I typically conduct these along with members of the Virginia State Police Motor Carrier Division and occasionally representatives from the Department of Motor Vehicles. At one such meeting the trooper speaking presented required safety equipment on each vehicle type in a convenient table, so I stole the idea! You can view my version of the table here: Required Equipment for Farm Trucks & Machinery I’d encourage you to review the table to see if you are equipped on each of your farm trucks and equipment. Each code section has a hyperlink that takes you directly to the General Assembly website showing the code online.

The table mentioned above breaks the requirements down in columns by vehicle type, including those using Farm Use, Registered Farm Vehicle (F-tag), those with non-farm truck registrations typically used in agriculture. The linked handout also has a table for farm equipment.

It doesn’t take long to make that pre-trip inspection to make sure your truck is ready for the road. It also doesn’t take that long to check your farm equipment before you go to the next field – its time well spent. There are also many things in addition to these requirements you should consider, any precaution can save from having a headache, or losing a life.

Remember you can always access the Virginia Farm Bureau Resources page here:

Andrew Smith, Associate Director

New Farm Vehicle Exemptions take effect Oct. 1

On July 6, President Obama signed into law H.R. 4348, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). Included in the law were several exemptions relating to farm vehicles for farmers and ranchers.

The following regulations and exemptions take effect Oct. 1:

A covered farm vehicle, including the individual operating that vehicle, shall be exempt from the following federal requirements:

• Any requirement related to commercial driver’s licenses;

• Any requirement related to drug testing;

• Any requirement related to medical certificates;

• Any requirement related to hours of service; and

• Any requirement related to vehicle inspection, repair and maintenance.

In addition, federal transportation funding to a state may not be terminated, limited or otherwise interfered with as a result of the state exempting a covered farm vehicle, including the individual operating that vehicle, from any state requirement relating to the operation of that vehicle.

Exemptions do not apply to a covered farm vehicle transporting hazardous materials that require a placard.

A “covered farm vehicle” means a motor vehicle (including an articulated motor vehicle) that is traveling in the state in which it is registered or another state and is operated by:

• A farm owner or operator;

• A ranch owner or operator; or

• And employee or family member of an individual farmer or rancher.

The covered farm vehicle must be equipped with a special license plate or other designation by the state in which the vehicle is registered to allow for identification of the vehicle as a farm vehicle by law enforcement personnel.

The farm vehicle and the individual operating that vehicle are exempt from the above-mentioned requirements if the vehicle is less than 26,001 pounds. If the vehicle is greater than 26,001 pounds, the exemptions apply within the state or within 150 air miles of the farm or ranch.

It should be noted that this legislation does not specifically exempt a farmer or rancher from any state requirements. There are no longer federal requirements relating to the above-mentioned regulations. Additionally, funding from the federal government to a state cannot be withheld if a state chooses to allow exemptions for agriculture.

Included with the farm vehicle exemptions language was a directive to the secretary of transportation to conduct a safety study of the exemptions. Farm Bureau plans to work closely with the Department of Transportation as it conducts the study.

AFBF Supports Farm Truck Measures in Transportation Bill

AFBF President
Bob Stallman

The American Farm Bureau Federation is supporting measures to make certain farm vehicles exempt from federal motor vehicle regulations that are appropriately aimed at the long-haul trucking industry. AFBF is urging senators to support two amendments to the pending transportation bill (S. 1813).

The first amendment, introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), would provide an exemption for farm trucks. That measure is co-sponsored by Sens. Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). If based solely on weight limits, even a one-ton pickup truck pulling a trailer could be subject to the long-haul regulations.

“The amendment is important because some states exempt farm vehicles while others do not,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman. “Under the current situation, merely the act of crossing state lines can trigger conflicting requirements for some farmers who are doing nothing more than hauling their own crop. These regulations can be particularly burdensome for farmers and ranchers living in counties bordering another state where their best market might be just across the state line.”

The second Farm Bureau-supported amendment to S. 1813 would exempt certain farm truck drivers from regulations on maximum driving and on-duty times during harvest and planting seasons. It is sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.).

“This measure is particularly crucial during the two busiest times of a farmer’s year,” Stallman said.

The amendment would apply to drivers transporting agricultural commodities within 100 miles of the farm that produced them, or those carrying farm supplies for agricultural purposes within 100 miles of the wholesale or retail distribution point. Each state would determine its own planting and harvest periods.

Clearing up ‘Farm Use’ Confusion

Hello! I am Andrew Smith, and I am Senior Assistant Director of Governmental Relations. One of the issues I handle for Virginia Farm Bureau is transportation.

I wanted to take a moment to let you know about a bill that passed this year in the General Assembly that we hope will clear up some confusion that began in 2010 when the legislature was attempting to limit the use of unregister farm vehicles (Farm Use) to the appropriate type of vehicles. In that year the types of vehicles were listed that are allowed to use the exemption with the intent to rule out the use on passenger vehicles.

In doing so, the language caused some confusion, even though when read properly, it was correct. To clarify the issue, the General Assembly passed House Bill 746 which breaks the vehicle types down with numerically as opposed to using commas which currently used in the “farm use” section of Virginia Code. This legislation passed both Chambers unanimously.

The wording that will be official beginning July 1 of this year will read:

“The provisions of this section shall only apply to (i) pickup trucks, (ii) panel trucks, (iii) sport utility vehicles, (iv) vehicles having a gross vehicle weight rating greater than 7,500 pounds, and (v) trailers and semitrailers.”
This language will appear in each of the appropriate Code sections. Even though this doesn’t change the meaning of the law, it is intended to make it easier to read and clear to the average person reading this Code section that benefits many in our industry.

Virginia Advances Coalfields Expressway and Route 58 Improvements in Western Virginia

Route 460 Connector Phase 1 Ceremonial Groundbreaking Breaks
 Interstate Park (Photo by Trevor Wrayton, VDOT)

From the Governor’s Office:
Governor Bob McDonnell has announced that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has reached agreements with its private-sector partners to advance the Coalfields Expressway and the Route 58 Corridor Improvement projects. Both of these projects will benefit transportation and economic development in western Virginia.

“When eventually completed, the Coalfields Expressway will provide a modern, safe and efficient highway through the coalfields region of southwestern Virginia, and will open the region to new economic development opportunities,” said Governor McDonnell. “Route 58 has long been envisioned as a means to stimulate economic development in southwest and southside Virginia. It will make the communities along Route 58 more accessible, speed travel times, and provide a direct freight link with Virginia’s port.”
VDOT and the new Office of Transportation Public-Private Partnerships (OTP3) are advancing both of these projects under the Public Private Transportation Act (PPTA). The PPTA allows VDOT to partner with the private sector to deliver projects quickly and more efficiently.
Funding for these projects is from the governor’s historic transportation package and was programmed into the Six-Year Improvement Program by the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

Coalfields Expressway
VDOT has negotiated a $3.8 million amendment to its existing PPTA contract with Alpha Natural Resources to begin preliminary engineering of the Pound Connector and Doe Branch sections of Coalfields Expressway.
Coalfields Expressway – U.S. Route 121 – is a proposed four-lane highway stretching approximately 49 miles from Pound in Wise County through Dickinson and Buchanan counties to the West Virginia state line.
The Doe Branch section ties the Route 460 Connector Phase II and Hawks Nest in Buchanan County and travels west to Route 80 in the Haysi area of Dickinson County, about 4.8 miles. The Pound Connector is about 6.8 miles, beginning at Route 23 in the Pound area of Wise County and extends into Dickinson County where it will connect to Route 83 via a connector road.
Last July, VDOT completed the first section of rough grade road bed for the Coalfields Expressway. Alpha Natural Resources constructed the rough grade road bed at a cost of $10 million, a savings to VDOT of over $90 million by coordinating the road bed development on mountainous terrain as part of an active surface mining operation.
Route 58 Corridor Improvements
VDOT negotiated a $119.75 million amendment under its existing PPTA contract with Branch Highways Inc. to build the next phase of Route 58 improvements along the 36-mile corridor between Hillsville and Stuart.
Under the PPTA agreement, construction is expected to begin in spring 2012 to widen 8.2 miles of Route 58 between Meadows of Dan and Laurel Fork. This project is referred to as the Tri-County (3.2 miles) and Laurel Fork (5 miles) sections of Route 58.
The Route 58 Corridor from Hillsville to Stuart is the last remaining section to complete the widening of Route 58 from Virginia Beach to I-77.
In December 2003, VDOT signed a public-private partnership agreement with Branch Highways Inc. to develop and widen 36 miles of the Route 58 Corridor from Hillsville to Stuart as funding became available. The corridor begins southwest of Hillsville and continues east through Carroll, Floyd, and Patrick counties to approximately one mile west of Stuart.
The first phase of widening Route 58 under this contract, a three-mile Blue Ridge Parkway crossing at Meadows of Dan, was completed in May 2006. The second phase of widening, the $83-million Hillsville Bypass, was opened to traffic in August 2011.